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Three Utah bills to change rights of biological fathers in adoption cases encounter pushback

Loopholes in Utah's adoption law have been making it possible for pregnant women to head to the state and put children up for adoption, without consent of the biological fathers. Now three bills have been introduced during the current session in the state legislature to change things, but there's pushback.

"The policy of this state is to encourage marriage," said state Representative Merrill Nelson, during a recent house committee meeting

He was objecting to proposed legislation to share information between states about fathers who are searching for their offspring. "Our job is to look after the rights of the child primarily, what is best for the child and it's not to look after the rights of the reckless, unwed father who fathered the child," Nelson added.

State Senator Luz Robles authored the bill, SB 63, Compact for Interstate Sharing of Putative Father Registry Information. She told Fox News they have been seeing an increase in women coming from other states to give birth.

"I think in Utah, they still have some gaps, especially from out-of-state mothers, so this bill will also provide some protection for those out-of-state biological fathers that may not know that mother end(ed) up in Utah." 

Another piece of legislation, state Senator Todd Weiler's SB 229 Adoption Act Amendments, would make provisions for mothers who have lived in the state less than 90 days. They would also need to file a declaration with the court regarding each potential birth father.

A third bill was delayed, after heads of adoption agencies wrote to lawmakers to lobby against proposed fixes. Their letter reads in part, "In our haste to ward off the criticism and bad press stirred up by the negative campaign against Utah adoption laws, we pray we don't destroy the original intent of Utah's Adoption Act and consequently destroy the good that comes from adoptions in Utah. This bill would be a major step toward that destruction."

The legislation to which they objected, SB 246 Parental Rights of Biological Fathers, would have offered improvements to notifications for most fathers. It was sponsored by Senator Curtis Bramble, but it failed to make it out of committee. 

His intern texted Fox News, "Senator Bramble is not going to pursue this bill anymore this session." The senator told Fox News he'd make himself available to talk about it, but was a no-show while a crew waited an hour and a half for a scheduled interview.

Donna Pope, owner of Heart to Heart Adoptions, co-signed the letter. She claims only a small percentage of fathers who truly want to be involved are actually left in the dark. 

"We don't want to change the law for the small population and devastatingly affect the other population of women that are affected by it," says Pope.

She worries abused woman who do not want the fathers contacted would opt for abortions instead. Currently, women can say they have been abused and get out of notifying the dads, but SB 246 would require documented abuse. 

Thirty birth fathers have filed a federal suit claiming Utah's complicated system of adoption allows women to secretly give birth in the state, without the dads' proper knowledge, violating their civil rights. The letter from Pope and her colleagues appears to question the biological fathers' motives.

"These individuals have recently filed a lawsuit for $130 million while openly admitting they are after large amounts of money," it said.

Their attorney, Wes Hutchins, counters the complaint.

"The bottom line here is the fraud immunity statute... actually invites monetary lawsuits against those that commit fraud, because it says expressly, you cannot get your child back because someone committed fraud, but you can sue for money damages. How much... would we place on the value of the lives of our children? Is there any value?" 

Hutchins says there are huge monetary incentives for the adoption industry and birth mothers are often coached. He has submitted undercover phone calls as evidence. 

In one recording with Pope's agency, a representative asked a woman if the biological father was rich, because he would need an attorney in Utah. Pope says, "These women live lives of basically desperation... and they do have a tendency to avoid the full truth and so our job is to try to pull out then what the story really is... It is not our job to tell them to lie."

One of Hutchins's clients, Chris Carlton of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, was told his baby boy died. After suing to find the burial site, he found out the child was adopted out in Utah. And he eventually learned his boy is actually a girl. He recently had a partial victory in the state's Supreme Court, as he seeks custody of his 4-year-old. Carlton says, "I am looking forward to getting to this district court. And hopefully I can see her, even for a few minutes. Hopefully these people do the right thing and just give her to me." 

Alicia Acuna joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1997 and currently serves as a general assignment reporter based in the network's Denver bureau.

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